On 4 March 2013, SQUASH launched a new campaign and report at a meeting in the House of Commons of concerned MPs, Lords, lawyers, homelessness groups, academics, campaigners and squatters.
The campaign is calling for a repeal of Section 144 of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill (LASPO), the new criminal offence of squatting in a residential building. A petition has been set up here.
Here are 10 reasons why:
The new law is unnecessary and obsolete. Home-owners were already protected by the Criminal Law Act 1977, which made squatting in someones home or a home that someone intends to move into a criminal offence. Nearly every article on squatting in the tabloids up to now has failed to mention this.
Homelessness rates are soaring and predicted to rise even further due to government cuts and the recession. Since 2009 the government has slashed funding to homelessness services and is now pushing ahead with cuts to housing benefits.
We are in one of the worst housing crises this country has ever seen but at the same time there are over 1 million properties sitting empty across the UK – this figure is still rising. Criminalisation protects the ‘rights’ of owners to profit on the property market by keeping buildings empty, over people’s right to shelter.
Rents have spiralled out of control. Whilst politicians and sections of the media seek to demonise all squatters as freeloaders, there are more and more people who simply simply can’t afford rental accommodation and are turning to squatting out of desperation, including teachers, nurses and students.
40% of single homeless people have squatted as an alternative to street sleeping. Criminalising squatting is criminalising vulnerable homeless people during a housing crisis. Innocent people are being put in jail for trying to gain a roof over their head.
Because alternatives to homelessness are dire; hostels, b&b’s and temporary accommodation are often overcrowded, unsafe and inadequate solutions which undermine human dignity and decency. ‘Social housing’ is now increasingly provided by unaccountable private companies rather than elected local councils.
If predictions from respected housing academics prove correct and if the MOJ continues prosecuting at the rate it anticipates, criminalisation will cost up to £790 million over 5 years due to the costs of extra policing, prosecution and the extra burden on the housing benefit system.
The law was rushed through Parliament. 3 days before the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill passed the House of Commons, the clause to criminalise squatting was “sneaked in”. There was no specialist input from legal experts or academics regarding what effect the legislation would have.
Mike Weatherley MP, one of the main voices behind criminalisation, is possibly the worst politician ever to have been born. His brand of fantastical Tory rhetoric blurs the real issues by painting all squatters as ‘window -smashing- anarcho- hippie- dope- youth- lefty- scarecrows’. We know that this just isn’t the case.
Because we want to live in a society where people aren’t forced to squat rather than being criminalised for having to.